Attending college offers the opportunity to come into contact with new and exciting people virtually every day. Case in point: Dianna L. Cowern ’11 hails from Hawaii and is studying physics. She once distributed polio vaccines in the Dominican Republic and plays the ukulele. This Sunday, she will be competing in the Miss Boston Pageant, the first step on the path that potentially leads to becoming Miss America. The Tech had the opportunity to interview Miss Cowern about her pageant preparation and her experiences at MIT.
The Tech: So, you’re competing in the Miss Boston Pageant. How did you come to be doing that?
Dianna L. Cowern: I actually did the Miss Massachusetts Pageant [part of Miss USA] in the fall. I found that one on Facebook. (laughs) Facebook gave me an ad about a pageant, which is nothing like I’d ever done, but I decided to do it, because it sounded fun. I did that in the fall, and in the spring, I was like, “Well, I’ve learned some public speaking skills, and how to walk in heels, and things that girls usually know, and I have a dress, so why not do it again? Then I found out that Miss Boston is more towards scholarship and works more with charity organizations. It just seemed like a better experience, so I thought, “why not do it?”
TT: You do physics and music. How does that balance with all the things you have to do to be in a pageant?
DLC: As you might guess, it was a lot easier to balance things in high school. When I came to MIT, I wanted to continue music, but I couldn’t continue piano and voice, so I decided to quit one, and I chose [to continue] voice. I sang in an a capella group for two years, I did Chamber Music Society freshman year, and I’m doing that again this year. I actually quit the a capella group my junior year, because I was just too busy — I was trying to double-major 6 and 8, and I decided way too late that I wanted to do that, and I’d already taken course 9 classes and Spanish classes, and all kinds of classes that weren’t going towards my Course 6 degree. At some point last year, I just decided, I can’t do this, I’d have to take five, six classes until forever, so I decided to drop the Course 6 major. It’s really hard to balance, when you really, really focus on academics — and when I was taking three Course 8 classes, two Course 6 classes, I couldn’t focus that much on music. You have to make time for a few things, and sanity should usually be one of them.
TT: And singing is going to be your talent for the pageant? How are you preparing for that?
DLC: Actually, one of my friends, Allin [D.] Resposo [’11], who does mashups, he put together an arrangement of “Think of Me” from The Phantom of the Opera, transposed it into the key that I could sing in, so I’ve just been practicing with the track that he made.
TT: How did you end up living in Hawaii?
DLC: Actually, [my family] lived in New Hampshire before. When I was one, my parents decided to move [to Hawaii]. We didn’t really have a plan. So we were just like, “Maybe we’ll start a macadamia nut factory.” And when [my parents] got there, they decided to start a bed and breakfast. They were struggling for a while, because the cost of living in Hawaii is extremely high. Just when they started the bed and breakfast, a hurricane hit in 1992. It destroyed part of our house and blew the roof of the guest house across the valley. But because the cottage was destroyed, they got a lot of insurance money for that, and that was enough to pay for parts of the house, and continue investing in the bed and breakfast. And now my mom runs that by herself, and my dad followed his dream of becoming a tree farmer. (laughs) He’s now starting a sustainable biomass plant for the community. He’s a very smart man, and he’s very into technology and entrepreneurship. He’s probably the reason I’m here at MIT.
TT: What was it like growing up?
DLC: Umm … amazing. I mean, obviously — it’s Hawaii. It’s just so beautiful, the entire island is like your backyard. There was a waterfall 20 minutes from our house, so we would walk down there and play in the waterfall, go on hikes all the time, go kayaking. I also drove tractors on the tree farm for a while. At the same time, there were things I wish had been different. Hawaii was so small; there weren’t that many opportunities, so coming to MIT was kind of a shock. I got here, and people were so brilliant, and had so much experience, and I had come from a place where I had to struggle to get into a calculus class. My school didn’t have calculus until I went there, and I had a one-on-one teacher in that class. So, schooling wasn’t ideal, but at the same time, the community was incredible. We had so many family friends all over the place, it was a warm place to grow up.
TT: So, according to your pageant profile, you’re interested in the fields of science communication, journalism, or education. What made you choose those?
DLC: Partially, working in physics labs. I’m really interested in lots of different kinds of science. I took a Course 2 class for a while, Course 9, I could not decide — I still can’t decide — what I want to do. So, science journalism is a field where you can study anything in a lot of different areas, and learn it in-depth enough to communicate it to someone else. I actually started a blog, and the first article was about formaldehyde and how it works, and the second article was about honeybees, so I went and got some books from the library and I was reading about bees, and learning all this stuff I had never known, and I loved it. I liked writing the article, I liked trying to explain it in an interesting way using analogies … it’s really fun for me, and I only discovered in the last couple years that I liked writing about science, I liked trying to communicate new things, and I liked the challenge of communicating accurately. I mean, one of the biggest criticisms of science journalism is that either they’re not focusing on the most important facts about science, or getting the facts wrong altogether. So, coming from a science background, I want to take on that challenge of communicating the right issues properly.
TT: Last question — in order to become a strong pageant contestant, you obviously have to be a well-rounded individual in numerous aspects of life. Do you have any advice for people who want to expand their horizons?
DLC: I would say, always remain open-minded. One of the reasons I was hesitant about doing the pageant was because MIT sort of focuses solely on academics, and makes you feel almost inferior if you’re not spending all of your time studying, so I think it’s really important for people to do what helps them promote confidence, and character, and focusing on yourself. Pageants aren’t the usual path that people take at MIT. I would just tell people to keep an open mind, that you don’t have to focus on just one thing to succeed in life. It’s the people that have confidence, that can express themselves, who are going to push their ideas forward.
The Miss Boston Pageant takes place this Sunday at 5 p.m. at the Omni Parker House. Tickets are $20. For more information, and to purchase tickets online, visit: http://www.missboston.org.